Window Treatment

%{[ data-embed-type=”image” data-embed-id=”57150cbc89121ca96b97324c” data-embed-element=”aside” ]}%

This season, MTV’s Road Rules ventured beyond its usual menu of extreme sports and sexual high jinks by positioning its sculpted cast members in the front window of a clothing store, naked except for some camouflaging body paint. Similarly, in its ongoing campaign to invigorate the downtown art scene, Kansas City’s Urban Culture Project turns empty storefronts into vessels for art of all media. Though the concept has roots in the avant-garde of the 1960s, if not before, it still brings to Kansas City a shock of the new.

The project’s latest endeavor, Retail Theatre, is a collaboration with the University of Missouri-Kansas City Theatre Department. From 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on the next three Fridays, actors repeatedly stage a short piece called “Fifteen Minute Window” in front of the Jenkins Music Company building at 1217 Walnut. A cool blend of drama and art that pointedly addresses America’s current political and social dimensions, it also launches the theater department’s Festival of N.O.W. (New Original Works), in which three shows will premiere by the end of the school year.

Technically, the building’s not even there — just its facade, oddly stuck to a parking garage like a colossal Post-it.

“The structure reminds me of what they say about a camel being a horse designed by committee,” says Barry Kyle, the British-born UMKC theatre professor who is directing Window.

But the corner’s clash of beautiful and ugly couldn’t help but inspire, says the Urban Culture Project’s Kate Hackman. “The deep window niches seemed a perfect site for performance downtown,” she says. “It’s enough room to set up a stagelike situation but not enough to accommodate people inside, meaning that people gather on the sidewalk together to watch.

“Part of the point of Urban Culture Project is to create energy on the streets of downtown and a certain element of surprise and unexpectedness,” she adds. “Activating storefront windows has seemed an ideal approach to reach anyone and everyone who passes on the street. All of our sites are street-level, which is critical, as we do want to have an ongoing level of visibility, of not just reaching the typical gallerygoer.”

Students created the show with help from Kyle, who was involved in a similar theatrical effort in New York in the early 1970s for Squat Theatre. The political punch of the project, Kyle says, isn’t an accident. “Whatever the outcome, this is an election of destiny for the United States, and an election is a kind of window,” Kyle says. The piece comments on the country’s polarization by presenting a different set of images sequentially in each of two windows. “It’s like the first eye closes, and then the other opens, revealing another set of images,” he explains.

Hackman says Window is significant beyond aesthetics because it marries two disciplines that don’t usually overlap.

“I think people are a little lazy, myself included, about getting out to see everything, particularly if it means venturing somewhere off one’s beaten path,” she says. “But I really believe the audiences for both theater and art — and dance and music, etcetera — are essentially people who are curious and open to new ways of seeing and thinking, and that is where they all intersect and should logically come together.”